Monday, 24 June 2013

Life of a Lemur

There comes a moment in all of our lives, when something hitherto unknown happens and we are changed from that point on.

The past 5 years have been incredibly trying for me. I cant be sure why since technically all has been well. But my mind and body have been in a state of permanent stress and anxiety. Plagued with a myriad of thoughts and a perennial stream of worry, I have not allowed myself really look around me and realize that all is not so bad...

But then something happened. And I feel the heavy fog that has drowned my spirits and my beliefs for so very long, is slowly lifting.

I just got back from an incredible trip to attend my friend’s wedding in her hometown -  the great big island of Madagascar. And as usual, whilst planning this trip, the stress bugs set in and offered all sorts of bizarre “what if’s” and “perhaps” to confuse and destroy my decision to attend it. My biggest fear was going alone, and not knowing “enough” of people there. This time however, I fought off all these thoughts, and reckoned that I would embrace all aspects of this trip for better or for worse. And as soon as i decided this, small and simple things clicked and things started to fall into place...

I will never be able to thank my friend Naima and her (now) husband Shahim, for the wonderful hospitality and graciousness they offered to all 30+ of us, who came from various parts of the world to attend their wedding. They really went all out taking care of us for the entire period  and promising that we had the time of our lives. Which indeed we did.

I found it a fascinating and unusual “Indian” wedding experience. Here are 2 people who come from a very specific and small community in Mada - Naima is a 5th generation Malagasy-Indian, whose forefathers once hailed from Gujarat and left India so many decades ago to fight off abject poverty and improve their circumstance in life. Finding themselves far, far away from India, now in Madagascar, Africa, this community works exceedingly hard to retain and even improve their idea of India and being Indian. Its strange because they physically look Indian, but they speak to one another in French, interspersed with Gujarati. They are extremely well-heeled, and are global citizens, but most of them have never visited India and so it holds as the most exotic and wondrous destination in their minds. At the mehendi, whilst I was dancing the garba (yes, I said garba! Not to forget, another evening of Dandiya!!), I felt all the eyes of the ladies on me. These ladies who had carefully and painstakingly come all dressed up in their desi best - wearing the latest styles that they had seen in the movies and off the internet. For them, it was just unbelievable that i was the only “real” Indian there who had come alllllllll the way from true Indian soil to Madagascar. By default, this made me the leader of the chorus line, and I would often find myself having to “perform” for the curious audience!

Naima and her effortlessly elegant mother spent an entire month in Mumbai, meticulously planning every single teeny-tiny, minute detail of the wedding. Taking into account every aspect of the celebration - from the the invitation cards, outfits, jewelry, to the decor elements and not to mention, gifts for so many people, single-handedly the 2 Meralli-Ballou ladies took the city by storm. By the end of the second week, they knew every gulli-guchi and side alley of Mumbai inside out. This was a real feat - considering they were foreigners preparing for a mammoth of a wedding in such a distant land, from bustling Bombay, with no hindi-speaking skills. Really, chapeau les filles!!

I happened to be traveling myself on the same night as them, so we met one last time at the airport for a quick hug. Naima’s mum told me that they had over 5000 KG of goodies with them, that they had to courier. A few weeks after they had left, I got a giant parcel at home - it was addressed to me, but it had come from some dodgy-sounding person in Hyderabad, who I obviously didn’t know. My overactive imagination got the better of me, and I tried to guess the (toxic + harmful) contents of that box. As I pondered over whether to call the courier company or the police or to simply ditch the box outside my house, I got a call from Naima telling me to watch out for a parcel that was for her and on its way to my home. It is a good thing that she called me just in time, before I had done something really silly with that package whose true contents were 2000 personalized charms bearing a special prayer on it, that her mum wanted to share with all the guests at the mosque, present for the nikkah ceremony.
Beautiful People: The Bride and her Family

Amidst the twinkling lights, bursts of colour, the cacophony of the guests and the general din of a wedding, I looked around and appreciated  the culmination of all their effort and sincerity, that had come together to make it such a beautiful and tasteful wedding. The table napkins, the centerpieces, the take-away gifts from the functions, the saris all of Naima’s friends wore, they all looked familiar! I had seen them as samples!
The Bridesmaids and the Bride's mom

Colour No Bar
Ladies dinner at the mosque
Kabool! Meet Mr. and Mrs. Madagascar
The Ghagra was a bit too heavy.....

There is a saying, the people make the place and this holds forth since the best part of the trip for me was the people I met. And of course, the fun that we had!

Hotel Tamboho, our humble hotel in Antananrivo (Tana, from this point on), was an efficiently-run property built on a patch of shimmering green grass, and began to feel like home by the end of the trip. For all the other non-wedding guests staying there, it must have resembled a frat-house, given that the small space was spilling over with the lot of us, at all times of the day and night...It was here that everyone would gather around and hang out, drink and smoke too much, pump up the music volume and laugh very,very loudly. Day times were reserved for the pool side and come sun-down, the party would move to the lobby area. For any observer looking at this motley crew, we must have seemed like an advert for the United Colours of Benetton.
Shahim studied in London and in those years found himself a band of brothers from various parts of the world, and their bond was thicker than blood. These boys were all there to support their main man during this life-altering moment in his life, and were sure to make every moment count! It was due to their antics and let’s say, joie de vivre, that the rest of us were integrated into the plan. There was something in the air, that got us all to relax and merge with one another. For those 10 days, we danced, we laughed, we shared.....and some more.
Gangsta Trippin'
The Bose Boy
Kukure! Dancing Afrikana style

We managed to take a break from Tana and visit nearby lake town, Mantasoa for a 2 night “camping” getaway, which also proved to be an epic experience! Not to say too much on the internet, but for most of us present that fateful night, I’m sure the highlight was the 2 am skinny-dipping episode, when the dude decided it was his duty to strip and plunge into the icy lake. Not sure why and how that happened, but it made for spectacular entertainment, complimenting the bonfire and starry night so thank you, GG.

Bonfire Time

The craziness would continue in the mini vans that we traveled in and would come with us to all the various places we visited. I suppose the bestest and most x rated times were had by Yanish (The groom's younger brother) and his cronies, in Yanish's gangsta mobile. (I jumped in for a ride just one time, and shuddered to think what nefarious activities must have transpired otherwise!) It was great that no one had an attitude or were was refreshing to just be and act naturally, without thinking about its implications.

Pure Evil

So the days literally flew by in this happy bubble and it wasn’t until my second last night that that the “je-ne-sais-quoi” feeling creeped in. Still in Mantasoa, under a dazzlingly-clear sky, I was catching shooting stars with KK and Naima's dapper cousin brother, Karim. It was nice and nippy outside, and I felt fresh and alive! Temperatures were rising back inside the restaurant, as the rest of the troops moved on from dinner to drinks. Chammak Challo was banging and people were stomping.

The last night was an elegant sit-down dinner and reception, I was hit by a wave of unexpected melancholy at realizing that in a few hours, I would be home-bound and back to my “real life”. This youthful, carefree time had come to en end, like all good things. I left with a heavy heart, but a happy heart, knowing that good times were around the corner. The winds were going to blow in my favour...What will be, shall be!

Under the Lights - Reception
God is in the details

Until we meet again.......

Fly High!

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